Friday, April 29, 2016

Then & Now: Iconic shot of kids, soldiers at Sudley Springs Ford

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In an iconic Civil War photograph, seven Yankee cavalrymen astride horses and two boys in Confederate attire face off across Sudley Springs Ford while two young girls sit nearby on the banks of Catharpin Run. You've probably seen the image by Connecticut-born photographer George Barnard scores of times.

Last Saturday, I joined nearly 60 other Civil War nerds, aficianados, fanatics for a more than eight-hour tour of the First Bull Run field led by the National Park Service's John Hennessy, who literally wrote the book on the battle. Ignoring a steady downpour, we gathered on the Catharpin Run bank near the spot where Barnard shot the image in March 1862. Eight months earlier,  more than 13,000 Union soldiers had used the ford en route to attack the Confederates' left flank at First Bull Run.

As my "Now" image clearly shows, the landscape is much more wooded than it was in 1862. But cool remnants from more than 154 years ago are readily apparent. To the left of the soldiers in the photo, check out the stone structure, the remains of which can still be seen in the present-day image. I love that stuff.

Of course, what makes this photo most compelling is the children. In this post on the "Fredericksburg Remembered" blog, Hennessy explained why he believes the youngsters in the image almost certainly are the children of John Thornberry, whose humble dwelling near the ford was used as Federal field hospital at First Bull Run. The two boys in Barnard's photo above also appear in his image of the Thornberry house, which still stands today. (A private in the 49th Virginia, Thornberry was wounded at Bull Run and knocked out of the war.)

According to a 1936 account by one of Thornberry's daughters, 10 wounded soldiers bled to death in her mother's bedroom of that house. Second Rhode Island Major Sullivan Ballou of Ken Burns' Civil War TV series fame died from his First Bull Run wound on Thornberry's property.

"Carpets and all furniture were out and gone," recalled Laura Thornberry, probably the girl at left in the image above. "We never saw any of it again, or anything else.  The old farm well in the back yard was almost full of everything that would go in it. ... Of course everything was broken.  How we all cried over it; and no prospects of replacing any of it."

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here. Click on all images below to enlarge.

A cropped enlargement of the original image shows the youngsters in more detail.
The remains of the structure at left may be seen today.
George Barnard's March 1862 image of the Thornberry house near Sudley Ford.
(Library of Congress collection)
A cropped enlargement of the Thornberry house photo shows the boys in more detail.
The Thornberry house today.  From 1871-1903, the building served as the Sudley, Va., post office.
(For more on the history of the building, go here.)

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